The Mountain League’s tidy eight-team structure offers Penns Valley the wrestling opportunity it always wanted.
Unlike past years, when the league split into Class AA and AAA divisions, schools are competing within a one-division format.
Translation? Everybody wrestles everybody.
Multiple coaches privately lament the concept, especially considering the PIAA decreased competition points from 24 to 22 this season. Using weeknights to wrestle varsity and junior high dual meets that might not last more than 45 minutes isn’t some coaches’ idea of productive outings.
Penns Valley’s Joel Brinker falls into a different category. The more league opponents his team sees, the better.
The Rams’ schedule includes league duals against Class AAA Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Clearfield and Philipsburg-Osceola. Penns Valley, Central, Huntingdon and Tyrone give the league four Class AA schools.
The Rams have already wrestled Clearfield and P-O at home. They visit Bellefonte on Tuesday and BEA on Jan. 31.
It’s safe to say the Rams circled those dates with Sharpies.
“I love it,” Brinker said. “This is what I wanted from Day 1 when I came here. Those are the teams guys read about and see in the newspapers and hear about. They get to see what these teams are like. It’s great for wrestling and good for the area in general.”
The Mountain League has lost four schools in the past two years. The league went from 12 to10 teams when Indian Valley and Lewistown merged in 2011. Central Mountain and Juniata departed after last season. The changes arrived at the ideal time for Penns Valley, which is 10-0 overall and 3-0 in league meets.
“Through the years, we have had some teams that could have competed well against bigger schools,” Brinker said. “This year, we have a team that can compete and they know it. They know it’s kind of fair game in the area. They want to prove themselves.”
This is Brinker’s best team since he replaced Jeff Stover as head coach in 2006-07. The Rams easily won last week’s Anthracite Duals at Panther Valley. Their lineup includes no sizable fissures. Eleven Rams boast .500 or better records. Every starter from 145 to 195 pounds owns 10 or more victories.
Sophomore 182-pounder Mike Rogers is 13-0 with 10 pins and two forfeits. He’s only wrestled six minutes once this season.
Rogers, fellow sophomore Corey Hazel and junior Seth Decker qualified for last summer’s Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D. They are among a group of Rams now training year-round.
Constructing a balanced dual meet team at the Class AA level is tricky. But the two-pound weight allowance allowed Penns Valley to slide wrestlers into advantageous spots. The Rams even have a few backups competing for mat time.
So, after five weeks of competition, the Rams are an excited bunch.
“Whenever we started getting win after win, we started realizing we had a couple of good guys on the team,” junior 220-pounder Mike Mundt said. “We had people doing stuff out of season, doing what they needed to do to get better. That’s when I started to realize we could have a good team.”
Brinker said winning the Mountain League represented a preseason goal. But he has narrowed the focus, emphasizing the importance of daily practice habits.
Another grueling weekend looms. Penns Valley is competing in Saturday’s Juniata Duals. The Rams will wrestle five times for a second straight Saturday. P-O, Huntingdon and Juniata are among the tournament’s other participants.
“It will be a long day,” heavyweight Mike Confer, “but it could be a good day.”
So far, these Rams haven’t experienced any bad days.
“These guys can do a lot,” Brinker said. “They are working hard. They know they can achieve success and do some good things this year. They are motivated and they feel like they can hang with a lot of teams.”
Starting fast — again
Fast starts are becoming the norm for Philipsburg-Osceola‘s Chris Thompson.
The junior collected a 10-second fall Tuesday at Central to improve to 8-0. Thompson has pinned three opponents in 18 or less seconds. He has allowed just three points.
His first varsity season included a similar start. Thompson opened 2011-12 with a 24-0 record. He ended the season 34-8, but the productive winter featured a cruel ending. He finished fifth at the District 6 Class AAA tournament. The top four finishers advanced to the Northwest Regional.
For the second straight year, Thompson is competing at 106 pounds. The weight class might be one of the district’s deepest, with talented underclassmen such as Leathers and Mifflin County’s Daulton Wilson in the division.